By Stacia Erdos Littleton
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – One of my resolutions for 2023 is to take a breath and be more aware of the fact that everyone is going through something.
Each day at work, I see people coming in for help and I’ve always made it a point to smile and say hello. In fact, I try to do that with everyone I pass on the street because of an article that has stuck with me. It was about man who planned to end his life, and the only thing that stopped him, was that someone smiled at him and said hello.
Admittedly, there are times we don’t even say “hi” to our neighbors or people we see on a daily basis. Sometimes we are just too self-absorbed, or perhaps we’re still mad their dog did its business on our lawn! When we don’t receive friendly customer service, we often get offended and respond negatively. But this year, I am committed to giving people some grace. Because none of us know what one another is going through.
The suicide of dancer, actor, producer tWitch Boss, at the age of 40 hit me hard. He was someone my daughter and I had connected over years ago. It’s funny thinking about some of things that bonded us over the years. There were the High School Musical movies, the Twilight Saga, our road trip playlist featuring Rihanna, Taylor Swift and John Mayer.
My daughter was six when we started watching So You Think You Can Dance. I remember our family vacation in Topsail, North Carolina playing all day on the beach. In the evening, Charli, then 10, and I would settle in on the couch in the rented cottage two rows back from the ocean to watch our favorite contestant on season 4. Yep – tWitch.
He was a hip-hop dancer who amazingly was able to transform and express himself physically and emotionally for any new dance genre thrown at him – contemporary, ballroom, Broadway jazz! Over the years, we watched his career and personal life bloom. He married another favorite contestant Allison Holker and they had three children together. His adorable young son even danced with him on Ellen, where tWitch had a regular gig as her DJ and co-producer. They too had met and danced together on the dance show when Ellen made a guest appearance.
So when I heard tWitch had died by suicide, I was heartbroken, and immediately texted my daughter in Cincinnati. Now 25-years-old, she was stunned. We talked and texted throughout the day. She didn’t understand. “Why would he do that? He had young children. It was Christmas time. He and Allison had just posted another dance on Tik Tok! He looked so happy! How could he do that to them?”
Shortly after, a colleague emailed me a column written by CNN commentator and best-selling author Mel Robbins. I’m sharing a portion of it here because it is a thought-provoking reminder of why we should stop and take a breath before commenting when someone who seemingly has it all, ends it all:
When someone dies from brain cancer, you don’t say, “That’s so selfish.”
When someone’s liver fails, you don’t say, “But they had so many resources…”
I think of death from suicide the same way I think about death from brain cancer. If you have a friend or a loved one – as most of us do – who has died from a struggle with addiction, depression, trauma or toxic stress, that mental health challenge fundamentally changed their mind, the way they think and the way they process the world. Similar to the way that brain cancer deteriorates the brain, mental illness impairs the mind and, for some, mental health challenges can even alter the physical structure of the brain.
With cancer, you see people you love deteriorating on the outside. When someone struggles with mental health issues, you often don’t see it. Unfortunately, people – men in particular – feel a lot of shame when they are struggling mentally.
There are a lot of people battling demons in their heads who put on a smile, share fun videos on social media, play on sports teams and are successful at work – all as they struggle to battle their inner demons. Just because you can’t see it inside someone, doesn’t mean the pain they are experiencing isn’t real or overwhelming.
That’s why tWitch’s death doesn’t make sense to so many people.
In public, his struggle was invisible. In the privacy of his mind, it may have been a living hell.”
In May, Coleman Health Services will be hosting a daylong symposium called Unmute the Uncomfortable focusing on ending the stigma of seeking help – particularly among men of color. More information will be forthcoming. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there is help available. Call or text 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.